For six months, the disappearance of $17.2 million in gold bars and cash from a warehouse at Toronto Pearson International Airport has remained a mystery. Now a lawsuit has given the public a glimpse into the victim’s view of the heist.
The theft at Pearson Airport in Toronto occurred in April.Credit…Chris Young/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press
In April, the Peel Regional Police, who are responsible for the airport, announced that a special container holding the valuable goods was unloaded from an airplane, placed in a warehouse and then disappeared. The police force seemed baffled at the time and offered no other information, such as whom the container belonged to or even the name of the airline that flew it into the country.
[Read: $14.8 Million in Gold and Valuables Vanishes From Toronto’s Airport]
While the case remains unsolved, a lawsuit has now filled in several of the blanks surrounding the robbery with still unproven allegations. The lawsuit was brought by Brink’s, the armored car company hired to move the cash and gold bars from Switzerland to Canada, against Air Canada, which flew and stored the high-value cargo container.
According to a statement of claim that Brink’s and two of its subsidiaries filed with the Federal Court of Canada, the cash and the gold were two separate shipments traveling together. The 53 kilograms of cash worth $1.9 million were sent by a Swiss bank to a Vancouver-based currency exchange. The 400 kilos of gold bars worth 13.6 million Swiss francs, or $15.3 million, were going to Toronto-Dominion Bank from a precious metal refinery in Switzerland. (The value of the cargo is slightly higher than the initial police estimate.) Brink’s said that it was responsible to the shippers for covering any losses if the gold and cash went missing.
Brink’s paid a premium, as a flat-rate handling fee and a percentage of the cargo’s value, to send the shipment through a special Air Canada service called AC Secure that, according to the airline, provides greater security and gives the shipment priority for loading and unloading.
Air Canada Flight 881 from Zurich landed in Toronto a few minutes early, at 3:56 p.m. About 24 minutes later the gold and cash were off the plane, and by 5:50 p.m. they were in an Air Canada warehouse for goods awaiting customs inspection.
About 40 minutes later, according to the court filing, an “unidentified individual” entered the warehouse.
“No security protocols or features were in place to monitor, restrict or otherwise regulate the unidentified individual’s access to the facilities,” Brink’s contends.
But the mystery person didn’t pull out a gun or otherwise use force to enter the area where the gold and cash were waiting. Instead, the person’s only weapon was a piece of paper. According to Brink’s, the person showed the Air Canada employees in the warehouse a waybill for “an unrelated shipment.”
Brink’s argues that the Air Canada employees made no attempt to check that waybill’s validity and released the gold and cash to the person, who “absconded with the cargo.”
None of this has been proved in court. Air Canada did not respond to a series of questions I sent. A lawyer for Brink’s referred me to his client, which also did not respond.
The court filing suggests that Air Canada employees or people impersonating Air Canada employees were involved. Without offering any details, Brink’s accuses the airline of “failing to ensure that employee credentials are not susceptible to fraud and/or misuse.” The company also contends that Air Canada did not “verify the trustworthiness and proper training of all personnel and third parties who maintain access to high-value shipments on its behalf.”
The lawsuit is not ultimately about how the robbery was pulled off. Under international agreements on lost and stolen luggage and cargo, Brink’s could expect to recover less than 1 percent of the missing $17.2 million (a situation familiar to anyone who has ever lost baggage on an overseas flight). But Brink’s contends that the extra fees it paid for the secure service mean that Air Canada must now reimburse it for the full amount of the missing cash and gold. The court will have to rule on that argument as well as Brink’s request for damages and legal costs.
I spoke briefly with a spokesman for the Peel Regional Police, who declined to comment on the security company’s description of events. As for the six-month-old investigation, he said that the force had nothing new to add.
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A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for two decades.
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